A fixture in San Francisco's own Little Italy neighborhood—known as North Beach—since it opened in 1948, Cafe Vesuvio played an essential role in the most lauded chapter of its history, serving as watering hole and gathering place for iconic beat poet Jack Kerouac and his many friends and contemporaries, literary lights such as Allen Ginsburg, Neal Cassidy, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
The birthplace of a significant movement in American letters, the area commemorates its unique history with several notable sites including the nearby Beat Museum. Jack Kerouac himself is remembered both within and without Vesuvio, by a cocktail called after him as well as the alley bearing his name which runs a short block between Chinatown's main thoroughfare, Grant Street, and the bar's doorstep at 255 Columbus Avenue.
Patronized by a wide variety of clientele over the years, Vesuvio's recognizes the many artists and other sorts of bohemians that have been among them with art shows in the bar and an annual outdoor art fair each spring in Jack Kerouac Alley, which it shares with Lawrence Ferlinghetti's equally culturally significant City Lights Bookstore across the way.
There is a palpable sense of history in the bar; not the dry, dignified history exemplified by the city's monuments and statues, but a lively, celebratory recollection of the joys of a bygone era (although those joys are not always reflected in the mood of the bar staff). The venerated institution's colorful past is reflected by its colorful decor, especially in the stained glass windows which are best enjoyed on the mezzanine which rings the bar. Even the bar's menu celebrates its traditions with Bohemian Coffee (which incorporates brandy, amaretto, and a twist of lemon—it seems bohemians, like Irishmen, prefer their coffee with a little bit of a kick), while also giving a nod to more modern priorities with eco-friendly cocktails and organic wine coolers.
The inquisitive can seek further illumination at 415-362-3370.
Writer and bon vivant J. Eric Miller lives, loves, and laughs in San Francisco and its environs. Follow his further adventures at theupsanddownsofsanfrancisco.tumblr.com.